Chronic absenteeism showed up in a big way at Central Florida schools this year
Student absences were up throughout Central Florida last school year, and experts say it’s not just COVID that’s to blame.
COVID absences continued long after the Omicron surge last winter says UCF professor Larry Walker. In Orange County Schools, 34 percent of the district missed the equivalent of two weeks during the 2021-2022 school year.
Walker says minority students at underserved schools were particularly susceptible to chronic absenteeism due to a variety of factors like the affordable housing crisis and food insecurity.
“COVID exacerbates all the issues we already had in our society particularly for marginalized populations specifically Black, Latino, Latina students. So what you’re seeing is the challenges of COVID-19 which are occurring now and which will occur years and decades from now.”
Walker says he’d like to see more therapists and counselors hired at schools to help students cope with the traumas they’ve faced over the last three school years.
“It is critically important to make sure that there are social workers, more school psychologists and other mental health practitioners in schools to make sure students get the support they need. But the one thing I don’t want to do is I don’t want to specifically say that this is all on schools because it’s not.”
Walker says policymakers also have to be willing to use federal funding they receive to help solve some of the root causes of absenteeism.
He says the long-term impact of students missing class will be felt by the US economy in the next few decades as workers are less prepared to fill high-demand STEM jobs.